Maureen McGovern has spent much of her adult life on the road. At the beginning of her splendid career, she led a nomadic existence for six years and lacked a home of her own. Her concert schedule necessitates a peripatetic life style, although she says that these days she tries to spend no more than half the year on the road. But when McGovern was invited to reprise the role of Marmee in the national tour of Little Women, she didn’t hesitate, even though it meant committing to a full year of living out of suitcases. The 30-city tour begins next month at the Civic Theatre in San Diego.
“I love the role and the story and the music,” says McGovern, who earned a Drama Desk nomination for her portrayal of Marmee on Broadway. “I so believe in the piece, and I’m excited about bringing this show all around the country. It’s a three-hankie musical, but in the end it’s life-affirming. It’s great family entertainment.”
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, Little Women follows the daily life of the March family during the Civil War. The show, with a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and direction by Susan H. Schulman, ran just 137 performances on Broadway. Yet, the demand for the musical around the country is such that a second year of the tour is already being booked.
“In New York, they kind of marketed the piece as a mother-daughter show, which tends to exclude the rest of the audience,” says McGovern. “Not only did we have mothers, daughters and grandmas, we had fathers, sons and grandpas. And I’d watch men wiping tears from their eyes. Anyone who’s ever had a dream that they’re having difficulty reaching can relate to the story. It’s about finding your voice and believing in yourself and achieving your dream against all odds. It’s also about loss. So many people would come up to me and sob and say how cathartic a piece it is for someone who’s lost a child or a mother or a father or a spouse.” McGovern has long believed in the power of music to transform, and she’s received countless letters from people telling her how “The Morning After”—the song that brought her to national prominence—has helped them through many situations. She is a spokesperson for the American Music Therapy Association, and also recently established Works of Heart, a not-for-profit foundation that provides a musical library of uplifting music for seriously ill patients and their caregivers. The other mission of Works of Heart is to educate the public about the ability of music to aid in the healing process. She says that “Days of Plenty,” her second-act showstopper in Little Women, in which she explains to her angry daughter Jo how she is able to go on after experiencing devastating loss, also reaches people in profound ways.
“‘Days of Plenty’ is music therapy in motion,” she says. “On Broadway we always had talkbacks with students, and one day a group of seventh graders came to see the show. There was a talkback afterward, and a teacher took me aside and pointed to one of the little girls. She said, ‘This girl has just lost her brother, and she’s been inconsolable. She doesn’t know how to go on with her life. And I watched her when Marmee sang “Days of Plenty.” I watched her face and I saw the very moment that it registered: “You go on with your life in honor of the one you’ve loved and you’ve lost.”’ And I thought, ‘We’ve done our job.’”